Antonio Conte’s arrival at Stamford Bridge in the summer of 2016 looked to be heralding the departure of Victor Moses – a nomadic winger that had struggled to make an impact during loan spells at Liverpool, Stoke City and West Ham.
However, in the ensuing 12 months, Moses has become an integral part of Chelsea’s squad, slotting in well as part of Conte’s now fabled 3-4-3 formation. The Nigerian became an unsung hero of the Blues’ title-winning campaign, with manager and player alike drawing plaudits for their role in this discovery.
Davide Zappacosta’s arrival at the club from Torino this summer, however, has now threatened Moses’s position in the starting XI. Today, we analyse both men and look at the difficulties Conte could have in terms of team selection:
As mentioned, Victor Moses was known across the Premier League for possessing good pace and playing as an out-and-out winger at all of his previous clubs. Conte, however, saw his physicality as an asset to the Chelsea lineup, as well as his ability to get to the byline and get the ball in dangerous areas for the then prolific Diego Costa. This paid dividends, as Moses played 33 league games last season on his way to collecting a maiden Premier League winner’s medal.
In contrast, Zappacosta is very familiar with the right wing-back role, and his performances at Atalanta – and then Torino – encouraged Antonio Conte to part with £25 million for his services. Conte is very familiar with Zappacosta’s style of play, too; he called the then 23-year-old into his Italian Euro 2016 squad for the championships in France. The 25-year-old was named as one of the three reserves for the tournament but his international recognition was an indication of the regard Zappacosta is held in by the former Juventus manager.
Premier League vs European Competition
Chelsea had a relatively light workload last season due to not being involved in European competition as a follow on from Jose Mourinho’s disastrous final season in charge. As a result, Conte had a settled squad to pick from and, more importantly, had a full week to prepare for the next opponent. Champions League involvement has changed that this term and Zappacosta provides welcome support to the wing-back position that is notoriously energy-sapping.
Moses impressed almost every week in the Premier League last season and benefitted from having Cesar Azpilicueta’s positional know-how behind him at right centre-back, which provided a solid platform for the Blues. Champions League football, however, is played at a slightly slower tempo – with a greater emphasis on technical ability and being resolute defensively – something that Zappacosta will be more accustomed to.
So who should Conte go for – Moses or Zappacosta?
Premier League – Moses: In the short term, it would be a surprise to see Conte opt for Zappacosta over Moses in the Premier League. It’s a notoriously difficult league for people to get to grips with and has exposed players with greater CVs than Zappacosta’s in the past.
Champions League – Zappacosta: Chelsea’s first Champions League game against FK Qarabag was a procession, with Zappacosta getting on the scoresheet – but the result seemed to have a hangover, with a laboured draw against Arsenal following it up on Sunday. Zappacosta should get the nod in European competition going forward, but Conte will be very keen to keep competition for places strong.
Much of Chelsea’s success last season was built on their ability to play an unchanged, well-oiled team, week in, week out.
Conte has identified that this isn’t achievable this term, with his charges currently competing on four fronts and although Victor Moses and Davide Zappacosta won’t want to be classified as squad players, if Chelsea are to achieve anything this term, it will need to be a full squad effort.
Header image by Christopher Johnson (CC BY-SA 2.0)